A law firm released a report Tuesday on allegations of physical and emotional abuse on the Rutgers University softball program that described coaches’ inappropriate behavior and miscommunication by administrators, but failed to recommend. discipline.
The publication of the report, which had been requested by Rutgers after investigation by NJ Advance Media, ended a seven-month investigation by the Lowenstein Sandler law firm of player allegations that coach Kristen Butler and assistant volunteer coach Marcus Smith, her husband, fostered a climate of fear, intimidation and abuse after they were done. charge in the 2019 season.
Ten of the 22 players dropped out of the program after the 2019 season, according to the report.
Butler and Smith could not immediately be reached for comment. An email was not immediately returned to Butler, and his voicemail box was full and he was not accepting messages. Smith’s contact information was not immediately available.
The players claimed they endured dangerous conditioning sessions, sometimes as punishment, that they regularly left them distressed and that they were subjected to physical and emotional abuse, NJ Advance Media reported in October 2019.
In one case, players were forced to run sprints after the team went $ 6 over budget at a Cracker Barrel restaurant. In another, a player threw up, but Butler told him to “straddle his vomit and go away, he can do it,” according to Tuesday’s report.
While the report concluded that the use of Butler’s conditioning was not a good practice, three experts hired by the law firm said it was not unusual, leading the authors of the report to conclude that “the prevalence of this practice warns against Butler’s view of acts as rampant or malicious. “
The report noted that Rutgers’ move to the Big 10 conference shifted the school’s focus from a “culture of participation to a culture of winning.” Butler, who played at the University of Florida and had trained at the University of Toledo before coming to Rutgers, inherited a team that had finished last in the conference with a 4-16 record in 2018 and took him to sixth place and an 11-12 league record in 2019.
In interviews with investigators, Smith denied that, among other allegations, he entered a team bus when the players changed and looked at the text messages a player had received from his boyfriend and commented on them. Some players said they felt they could not report Smith’s behavior to Butler because he was her husband.
She also denied the accounts of several players who told a player that she was recovering from a knee injury and that she did not want to participate in a “trust” exercise that involved falling into the arms of other players that would push her if she did not did it. skip.
The player, who has since transferred, told investigators he suffered panic attacks after the episode. The report concluded that Smith’s denial was not credible, and said Butler should have been more responsive.
The report recommended that Rutgers review its policy of allowing spouses to train the same team and examine spouses more thoroughly before hiring them as assistants. He also recommended that the school be more transparent about how player complaints are handled.
Butler was described as responsive to criticism and willing to make changes. The 2020 team players told investigators that she was “very different in her training and her relationship with the players this year, resulting in less anxiety and the players are no longer afraid to go to practice.”
In an emailed statement, Rutgers president Robert Barchi said the report “noted significant improvements from 2019 to 2020. It also contains a number of recommendations, some of which are already underway.”
Rutgers’ recent athletic history has been clouded by trouble. The university fired Petra Martin, the women’s swimming and diving coach, in November 2017 amid allegations of mental and verbal abuse. American football coach Kyle Flood and athletic director Julie Hermann were fired two years earlier in the wake of an academic scandal and the arrest of several players.
Basketball coach Mike Rice was fired in 2013 after the video showed him pushing, grabbing and throwing balls at players in practice and using anti-gay insults. Athletic director Tim Pernetti was also fired.